Editor’s Note: As the world continues to struggle with the spread of the coronavirus, I and several other pastors received the following email from a friend who pastors a local church in China.
Just wanted to send an encouragement to you guys. As we’re processing the coronavirus news over here in China, we’ve talked with our congregations and met with pastors of other churches in our association to share news and discuss decision-making. We’ve certainly gone before the Lord in prayer and meditated on his Word.
One other thing that we’ve done is think historically. How have Christians throughout the centuries responded to plagues and epidemics? How have they encouraged their churches? Did they stay or go?
It’s interesting how many times pastors will speak of the necessity for essential public servants to stay and not flee. And by “essential,” they mean folks like doctors, nurses, government employees, and…wait for it…ministers of the gospel.
Take W.S. Plumer for example, in his commentary on Psalm 91:
In times of public calamity, as a general rule we should stand in our lot, and do and suffer the Lord’s will there. We may indeed flee from pestilence, if we neglect no duty in so doing. This may sometimes be done, especially where a whole community may retire to a healthy spot. Where this cannot be done, let physicians, ministers of the gospel, public officers and those who may be useful as nurses stand their ground and commit their case to God. When moved by a right spirit such are in far less danger than many suppose. Their temperance and their courage are blessed as preservative. It is the hireling that seeth the wolf coming and fleeth. Blessed be God, our great Shepherd did not do so. Let us follow his example, and if we fall, fall at the post of duty.
When the the State Department encouraged all “non-essential” Americans to leave China by commercial means, I’m sure they would include pastors and missionaries in that category. But our brothers and sisters from centuries past are a good reminder that the ministry of the gospel is in fact essential.
This is certainly a complex issue. I don’t fault people for the decisions they make in such times. All people are different and have different things to consider. My point isn’t to nail down the “to flee or not to flee” question. Rather, I’m just musing on this encouraging view of the office of church elder.
This is no less true for you, no matter where you reside when you read this email. Be encouraged, brother pastors, you are essential personnel.